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Thursday, 27 December 2012

Ask the person next to you - what is the most important freedom in a democracy?

The freedom of speech.

We're giving it away.   Bit by bit.  

Sometimes you need a Christmas break to look back over stories and developments that may have been under-reported or not properly discussed during the year.   This is a huge such story for 2012.

In November, Nicola Roxon released some draconian guidelines for proposed new laws.   We were probably watching the AWU and misogyny matters at the time.   It's very important now to take stock of what Roxon and the Gillard Government are up to.

Annabel Hepworth's story this morning from The Australian is a good starting point - it was for me while I was fishing earlier.

Coalition 'soft' on offence laws

THE Coalition has been accused of being less trenchant in resisting Labor's plan to make it unlawful to offend or insult another person than a former political staffer to Gough Whitlam and a federal ALP backbencher.

In a letter to Coalition MPs a right-wing think tank says it has a "very great concern at the failure" of the Coalition to oppose the laws.

The letter by Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam says "frankly, that's just not good enough" that the Coalition intends to wait until a Senate inquiry has examined the plan.

"Members from around the country have inundated me with phone calls, emails, and letters about the draft legislation," the letter says.

"Every one of them has asked the same question: where is the Coalition on this issue? I wish I had something positive to tell them."

It says that former Whitlam adviser, retired NSW chief justice and ABC chairman Jim Spigelman, who has criticised the proposed laws for imposing unprecedented restrictions on free speech because they make it unlawful to offend or insult people, has been outspoken on the plan, "in stark contrast" to the "silence" of the Coalition.

Read on at The Australian's website, or better still subscribe to the paper!  

Annabel's story is based on this 11 December letter from John Roskam of the Institute of Public Affairs to coalition MPs.   Good on him for writing it, and good on Annabel Hepworth and The Australian for reminding us about it today.

IPA letter to coalition MPs_001
 Simon Breheny from the IPA had a red-hot go at giving this issue some prominence in late November, it's worth re-reading what he said then.

Andrew Bolt law to be supercharged by Gillard government’s anti-discrimination changes

By on November 21, 2012in Freedom of speech, Media release

“Attorney-General Nicola Roxon’s proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws announced on Monday are an attack on the fundamental freedoms of Australians,” said Simon Breheny, Director of the Legal Rights Project at the Institute of Public Affairs.

“The right to hold and express political opinions is fundamental to a liberal democracy. The Gillard government’s proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws threaten to eliminate these freedoms.

“The draft laws will punish individuals who express political opinions, if someone is offended by those opinions while working. Andrew Bolt was censored for talking about race. The Gillard government wants to censor talking about politics,” said Mr Breheny.

“The Andrew Bolt case under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act showed how ‘offend, insult, humiliate and intimidate’ on the basis of racial or ethnic characteristics can be used to silence free expression. These draft laws censor the expression of political opinion while working.

“Tony Abbott must immediately commit to opposing this extraordinary attack on our political liberty. If these laws are enacted, the Opposition must commit to repealing them in government,” said Mr Breheny.

The Institute of Public Affairs’ FreedomWatch project was founded in 2012 to focus on freedom of speech, the rule of law and personal liberties.

To donate to the IPA Freedom of Speech Fighting Fund visit: support.ipa.org.au

For media contact: Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, 0400 967 382  

People who've lived under totalitarian regimes can see the warning signs.   This is truly shocking stuff.   Imagine a tribunal appointed by the Gillard Government with the power to determine whether your statement of your political opinion had offended someone.   Climate change, asylum seekers, law and order issues, crimes and sentencing - a political leader's fitness to hold office.   This is too bizarre to even contemplate in a democracy, yet here it all is in writing.  

These things tend to happen bit by bit.   Then one day we wake up and wonder "how the hell did we get here?"

You should get active in support of John Roskam and the IPA.   They are a great voice of reason.

Read also Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian today. 

And The Australian's great editorial, New Discrimination Laws Undermine Civil Society.   

It's a shame we missed this during the business part of the year - or perhaps we are seeing the Gillard/McTernan media management handbook at play, ably assisted by a Canberra Gallery all too keen to ask tough questions of Ms Gillard like "What more can we do to help?"



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Where it Started

Gillard & the AWU scandal

Interview with Bob Kernohan